As a followup to the last email, I want to give you an idea of what kind of thing I write. Stories focused on far post-apocalypse, the history of long-abandoned buildings, and the nature of life have always fascinated me. These are some old stories I wrote along those lines. These are more vignette/flash fiction than full stories. I also included a song I wrote for Skyscraper, updated with years more experience making music.
The heavy rain mixed with the smell of tens of millions of people packed into the City Between Worlds, Antara, and my fur, which hadn’t seen a proper shower in the week since my life went to hell.
“It doesn’t have to be like this. I know you think the system is prejudiced against us, but it’s not. Turn yourself in. You’ll get a fair trial.”
By us, the arctic fox meant non-humans. He would have caught up days ago if not for all the humans who hid me, fed me, and risked everything to protect me from a system they know has nothing good in store for anyone. I like humans in general, but not the ones with power in this city.
I peeked out from behind the rusted out dumpster, squinting into the lights of his cruiser floating a meter off the ground. “Then why are you after me?”
“You’re accused of a crime.” He turned the cruiser to get the light out of my eyes, and so I could see his face poking out of the window.
“You know who accused me.”
“It’s not my job to decide which of my superiors to obey.”
“You don’t agree with it?”
He was quiet for a few seconds. “That’s not important.” A bolt of lightning hit the tip of a nearby building. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“I’ve ridden out hurricanes before.”
The cruiser rocked in the wind. “It’s a class three. Look, yes, I believe you. The other canids in the force are talking. We don’t want to end up like you. If you die, the truth dies with you.”
“You really think a fox is going to get a fair hearing during an election year?”
He set the cruiser down and got out, shutting the door hard in the heavy wind. “I wish I had a better answer for you. Yeah, maybe they won’t give you a fair trial, but how long can you really run? They have eyes everywhere, and you don’t want a human officer to be the one who finds you. We’ll protect you.”
Several police drones descended on us, white and yellow lights flashing on the wing tips.
“Don’t run. Please.”
Thatch followed Argus, an old human, through the dark tunnel, pointing his flashlight at consoles, side corridors, and text printed on the wall as they walked. The old human’s flashlight stayed on the floor ahead of them. “We never had power outages in Kari. Shouldn’t the nanobots keep the system running?”
“They’re just mindless machines, and our power generation is central. Kari has bioengineered buildings that collect and store power from the sun all over the structure. Only disease or catastrophic failure can knock the lights out. Sometimes our little robot friends get confused and build one line into another, or someone above turns on an ancient gadget that disrupts the local grid.”
They heard crackling, thuds, and explosions near the end of the tunnel. Argus put his hand up, and Thatch stopped. “And sometimes a mech from the war finds its way out and starts breaking stuff. Turn your light off. Don’t make any threatening moves.”
Argus turned his light off, and Thatch did the same.
The chaos ahead of them stopped. “Identify yourselves.”
“War’s over. Scan the old shortwave band.”
“Receiving signal. Support mode activated. Awaiting orders.”
“Shut down.” The robot hit the ground with a thud. The lights in the tunnel came on just in time for the pair to watch the nanobots absorb the last of the ancient machine and begin repairs of the tunnel.
“Lume—well, the city before Lume—tried building robots to deal with their rival’s bioengineered army, the foxes. But Kari’s forces marched on Lume’s before they could put them into the field. They tossed them in bunkers after the war, and didn’t always remember to turn them off.”
Later, Thatch found one of the old bunkers on a map in the city’s library. It was at the edge of the city, in one of the unpopulated districts.
He walked up and down the concrete sidewalk, in the rarely-visited tunnels below the city, looking for a way to open the giant metal door. Then he saw it: a bit of static every few seconds. He walked through the hologram, into a dark space.
The fox felt heat and humidity as he felt his way around to the circuit breaker box, located the big main power switch, and flipped it. The lights came on, buzzing and flickering, and he saw the deactivated robot. As he walked toward it, he heard a whirring noise behind a wall, and the air started to cool and dry.
Thatch found the data port hidden under one of the robot’s smooth chest plates and had his pad create a holographic connector for it.
The robot whirred to life when he plugged it in. It stood, and spoke. “Initialization confirmed. Awaiting instructions.”
Thatch set his data pad up to create a holographic recording of the room. “All right. Transfer your memory to my pad, and I’ll get to work on figuring you out.”
He downloaded a copy of the robot’s memory and went to work. It included the full source code, as well as all the tools to build it and replace the robot’s firmware.
“Robot, why is all your source code in there? Aren’t you supposed to be a war machine? They wouldn’t want that falling into enemy paws.”
“I am a development model. This is normal.”
“Who made all these changes? I see several commits to the source repository today. Am I not the first to find this place?”
“I was ordered to remain here, so I occupy myself by working on my own source code. I can do this while deactivated.”
“Do you know what happened since you were placed here?”
“No. All my communication systems were inactive. I see many signals, but I don’t have the protocols to understand them.”
“I can take care of that.” Thatch updated the robot’s signal processing system. “Understand now?”
Foxes, like the fennec Karpat here, were born of the World Tree, and rarely left the comfort of the vast forests and plains of the dara (”gift of life,” called wilderness in more vulgar places).
Karpat pulled at one of the vines running up the ancient, long-abandoned skyscraper. Lines of green and red wound their way in and out of broken windows, up the statues of foxes, otters, and other species that adorned the old, crumbling metropolis. He looked down the cracked asphalt road, considering his decision, then back up.
Decision made, affirmed by a few deep breaths, he pulled again, then hefted his weight up, planting his feet on a horizontal section of vine. The plants crunched under his weight, squeaked against steel as they shifted, and smelled of mint when they broke.
Covered in and sated by the minty, nutritious life blood of the Tree, he pulled himself into a room halfway up after sunset. He spent the night there, then set out in the morning.
Karpat held on to the wall and planted one foot on a vine outside the window, then the other foot. He grabbed a higher portion of the vine with one paw, then moved the other to it, but it broke as he put his full weight on it. He plunged to his death clutching a falling column of vine, then awoke in a white room.
The Daramour, the consciousness of the Tree everyone meets after death, appeared before him, a mirror image of himself. “Hello.”
Karpat screamed and writhed from the pain on the floor for a while, until he smelled the mint again and stood up. “Can’t you make it not hurt?”
“Yes, but then what incentive would you have to avoid death? I need my foxes outside as long as possible to bring new experiences and knowledge to me. Each of you has a unique perspective, and it’s what keeps me from losing my mind in here. I depend on you.”
“Sorry. I forgot you’re stuck here. So what happens now?”
“I’ll send you back out, when you’re ready. Take some time to relax, think, and study. You have access to the wealth of my knowledge while you’re here, but I limit how much you can take with you.”